DIY Vegan Bacon from Potato Peels!

I’m excited to share this recipe because it seems to be unique or at least not well-known.  I did some web-searching, seeking tips for perfecting my recipe, but all I found were recipes for making vegan bacon from other (more expensive) ingredients or for making stuffed potato skins using store-bought vegan bacon.

We had this idea when we were peeling a lot of potatoes to make cream-of-potato soup.  We were talking about how the tastiest potato soups have a little ham or bacon in them, and about how a crisp slice of bacon makes a delicious garnish on top of a bowl of soup, and meanwhile we were looking at all these long curly strips of potato peel . . . and someone, I think it was 12-year-old Nicholas, wondered aloud if maybe we could fry up the potato peels into something kind of like bacon.

potato peels fryingYes, we can!  Even our first try was pretty good.  After several rounds of experimentation, we’ve decided that we’ll never be able to get anyone to think this actually is bacon, but it’s a yummy, smoky, salty, greasy, crispy food that makes a better substitute for bacon than anything else you can make out of garbage in 5 minutes!

It’s especially practical if you want something bacon-ish to go with your potato-based meal.  But if you’re peeling potatoes for something else, and you want the “bacon” for another meal, just stuff those clean peels in a glass jar and refrigerate for a day or two until you’re ready to cook them–or cook them right away, refrigerate, and reheat in a skillet when ready to eat . . . or just eat some out of the jar with your fingers every time you open the fridge, because they really are that good.

What you see here is a 12″ skillet containing the peels of 4 medium-sized potatoes.  This produced a little over 1 cup (loosely packed) of finished “bacon.”  This recipe is not written with specific quantities because the amount of peel we’ve been working with has been different each time, and the seasoning is really a matter of taste. Read more of this post

Matrix Logic: The New Baby’s Relatives

Matrix logic or logic grid puzzles challenge you to figure out the characteristics of several people, using a series of clues, marking “yes” answers with an O and “no” answers with an X in a grid of boxes.  You can see an example grid in this Wikipedia article.

My 12-year-old Nicholas enjoys matrix logic almost as much as I do, so when he asked me last night to make up a matrix logic puzzle for him, I jumped at the chance.  He wanted it to have 5 people and 5 facts about each.  I challenged myself to do it with just 5 clues.

This puzzle is about 5 people who have a new baby in their family.  What is each person’s first name, last name, month of birth, day of birth, and relationship to the baby?

Get your graph paper!  Read more of this post

Vegetarian Yuletide Stew

Food styling and photography by Nicholas Efran.

My brother Ben Stallings invented this meal last night, and all 8 assembled relatives liked it!  The red and green colors are appropriate to the season.  It’s healthy, inexpensive, and quick to make.

p1040088To make about 10 main-dish servings, you will need

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 45 oz. canned black beans, or 3-4 cups cooked black beans
  • 45 oz. canned diced tomatoes, or 3-4 cups fresh or frozen-and-thawed diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 3 cups shredded kale
  • salt to taste
  • granulated garlic to taste
  • oregano to taste
  • cumin to taste
  • balsamic vinegar to taste

Dice onion and brown it in olive oil in a large saucepan.  Meanwhile, drain and rinse beans.

Combine all ingredients in the saucepan.  Simmer until kale is cooked to your liking.

Serve with rice and grated cheese for each person to add as she prefers.  (The serving in the picture is mixed with a lot of rice, and no cheese.)

Visit Real Food Friday for more great things to eat at your holiday gatherings!

Stratospheric Flight: electronic music

My man of many talents has composed and recorded several electronic music tracks.  Here’s the latest!

Click here if the embedded link below does not work for you.

Flexican Cornbread Pizza

Meatless MondayTasty TuesdayHearth & Soul Blog HopWorks-for-Me Wednesday

This recipe has a history.  It started with my mom’s trusty recipe for Mexican Pizza.  Then came my serendipitous discoveries that (a) it can be adapted to a non-Mexican-flavored version, which my family loves just as much as the Mexican version, and (b) it can be baked in a toaster-oven.  More than a year ago, I opened a contest to name this recipe…but none of the suggestions really grabbed me.  Meanwhile, my life-partner Daniel has referred to it at least once as Flexican Cornbread Pizza, which I think is a pretty good name, and he’s been kind of depressed lately, but he really enjoyed this meal when I made it last night, so…

THE WINNER IS DAN EFRAN, CREATOR OF COOL STUFF TO BRIGHTEN YOUR DAY!!!  YAAAYYY!!!

Absolutely no nepotism was involved.  It’s really more about my fondness for words that combine two other words.  This recipe is flexible and can be Mexican in flavor, and it’s like a pizza with a cornbread crust, so Flexican Cornbread Pizza is a perfect name.  Unless we come up with something even punnier.

This recipe can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  Here is the Mexican version, and here is an Italian version I made on a hot summer day, and below is the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on last night’s cozy January dinner.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan.  From start to finish, you can make it in 30 minutes or less, even if your onions or other vegetables are frozen shredded–they’ll thaw easily in the first stage of cooking.

These instructions are for baking in a standard oven, on a cookie sheet with sides.  See the above Italian version to adjust quantities to make a 9″ square pan to bake in the toaster-oven.

To make 6 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked and rinsed beans. I used pinto beans last night; I rinsed 2 cans, set aside 1/4 cup for the baby’s dinner (she also had black olives and Cheerios), and used the rest on the pizza.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 onion, or 1 or 2 green onions.  I used the last bits left over from a sweet white onion we’d cut up for other meals.
  • vegetables.  I used 4 big leaves of kale, 8 large white button mushrooms, and a big handful of black olives.
  • herbs, fresh or dried.  I used 1 stalk dried rosemary and 2 stalks dried thyme.  (Did you know?  Most fresh herbs will turn into dried herbs if you just put them in an open-topped plastic bag in the refrigerator and forget about them.  It doesn’t work with basil or parsley because they’re too wet and will get moldy.)
  • other seasonings to taste.  I used about 1/4 tsp. each of sea salt and white pepper.
  • Optional: 1 cup marinara sauce.  We didn’t use any this time.  Another option is to leave it off the pizza but serve it on the side.
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil.
  • Grease for the baking pan. I used coconut oil.
  • 1 cup cornmeal.
  • 1 tsp. salt.
  • 1 cup flour.  I used whole-wheat flour.
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder.
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, applesauce, or pumpkin puree. I used yogurt. (If applesauce is sweetened, omit syrup/honey.)
  • 1 Tbsp. sorghum syrup or honey.
  • Optional: 1 egg.  The crust holds together better if you use egg than if you don’t.
  • Optional: 1 cup grated cheese.  I used mozzarella.

Dice onion, any fresh herbs, and vegetables.  Saute them in 1 Tbsp. olive oil, in a skillet, for a few minutes, crumbling in any dried herbs and adding other seasonings.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.  Grease the cookie sheet, bottom and sides, from one end to about 3 inches from the other end.  (If you want your crust really thin, you can grease the whole pan.  I prefer to make it thicker.)

Mix cornmeal, salt, flour, and baking powder in a bowl.  Make a well in the center and put yogurt, syrup, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, and egg in it.  Mix them together and then mix with the dry ingredients; don’t mix too long or hard, just until combined.  (Over-mixing will pop the bubbles created by the baking powder, resulting in less fluffy cornbread.)

Pour the batter into the pan–start at one end and spread batter toward the other end, using a rubber scraper, until you begin having trouble getting it to stay together–it should be about 1/2 inch deep.

If using sauce, spread it over the batter.  Sprinkle vegetable mixture and beans evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle optional cheese evenly on top.

Bake 10 minutes.  Check to see if you can lift the edge of the crust easily with a spatula.  If not, keep baking and checking every few minutes until it’s done–typically 15-20 minutes.

Cut into rectangles and serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  Leftover pieces easily reheat in the microwave or toaster-oven.

Our Green Christmas Tree (now with photos!)

Back in 2007, I wrote about the little tree Daniel and I, with the help of former housemate Bill, made for our first Christmas together, back in 1996.  Made mostly of repurposed materials, this is a great alternative to cutting down a real tree or using a factory-made artificial tree.  It’s still going strong!  I’m finally responding to all the requests for photos of it.  Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the construction, but I’m reprinting the verbal description, and I bet you can figure it out–it was easy to make.

Christmas tree on the game cabinet

We just set it up for our 19th Christmas together.  Every year, we simply bring it up from the basement, wipe off dust with a damp cloth, and decorate!  Here’s how we made it: Read more…

Bean Wraps with Smoked Gouda and Pineapple

Meatless MondayUPDATE: Eight months later, I’m sharing this recipe at Meatless Monday.  It’s a great quick meal at any time of year because all the ingredients are shelf-stable except for the cheese and wrapper; it doesn’t use fresh foods that are in season at a particular time of year–unless you live in pineapple country!

Don’t eat cheese?  Baked smoked tofu would be delicious in this, too.

Last Saturday, despite being extremely pregnant, I managed to attend and enjoy both a very nice birthday party at a nature reserve and the springtime celebration of the Edible Schoolyard at my son’s school–but then I was very tired.  On the way home from the school event, I asked nine-year-old Nicholas to help me think of something quick and easy we could make for dinner after I’d had some time to lie down.

He was eager to eat some of the smoked gouda cheese we had bought at Trader Joe’s on the way home from the birthday party.  (To my surprise, it cost only a little more than basic cheeses like cheddar at our supermarket.)  He also remembered that we’d bought tortillas….  “Let’s have a different flavor of bean burritos!”

I felt that cannellini beans (white kidney beans) would be the variety most likely to taste good with smoked gouda.  I thought some kind of fruit might be good with them, but we didn’t have apples or pears, hmmm…

Nicholas found a can of pineapple rings in the pantry and announced that he would grill them on the George Foreman grill.  This went well, although it was kind of smoky–we opened the window!  He used the drip tray to catch the juice that ran off, and used the sort of fingered spatula thing that comes with the grill to scrape off the blackened pineapple juice after each ring.  While he was doing that, I heated and seasoned the beans.

Our bean wraps were delicious!  Very savory, almost bacon-like flavor.  Here’s the recipe we invented!

To make 3 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 2 cans or 1 1/2 cups cooked cannellini beans (or other mild-flavored beans)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
  • sea salt and white pepper to taste (I used about 1/2 tsp. of each)
  • about 1/5 pound smoked gouda cheese
  • 3 large flour tortillas (Alternatively, I bet this would taste great wrapped in lettuce leaves, for a low-carb/gluten-free variant.)
  • 6 pineapple rings

Peel and slice the garlic.  Saute it in olive oil in a large skillet, not too hot.  Meanwhile, drain and rinse the beans.  When garlic begins to brown, add beans, tarragon, salt, and pepper to skillet.  Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, dice the cheese, and grill the pineapple (or brown it in a smaller skillet or in the toaster-oven) if desired.

Sprinkle cheese over surface of beans.  Cover pan and turn off heat.  Warm the tortillas (or wash the lettuce).  Cut each pineapple ring in half.

Divide bean mixture evenly among wraps.  Arrange 4 half-rings of pineapple atop the beans in each wrap.  Wrap them up.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more great recipes! Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for lots of useful tips!

How to use long-frozen cookie dough

When my parents visited us the Christmas before last, my mother made her grandmother’s traditional animal cookies: a buttery dough that you roll out and cut with cookie cutters (they don’t have to be animal shapes, of course) and bake and frost.  The recipe makes a huge batch, so she divided it and froze two portions, and we made cookies from the rest.

My son Nicholas and I defrosted one blob of cookie dough last spring and baked cookies for church coffee hour.  But the other blob was still sitting in our freezer, 15 months later.  I was beginning to wonder if it was still good and how we might get around to baking some cookies, because I’m seven months pregnant and would like to be filling that freezer space with leftovers to eat postpartum, but I’m so tired so much of the time that rolling out cookies does not seem to be within my capabilities.

One evening last week, nine-year-old Nicholas ate a healthy dinner and then asked for a bowl of berries (we have a big bag of frozen organic mixed berries from Costco, which we’ve been defrosting in the microwave one serving at a time) with yogurt.  I had to tell him I had finished off the yogurt at breakfast.  He was upset.  Berries with milk would not be as good.  We did not have ice cream.  After a while he started asking for “a bready topping”.  No, NOT oatmeal!  Finally I thought of the cookie dough.

We removed the blob of dough from its plastic bag and put it on a plate in the microwave on “defrost” setting.  After 5 minutes the dough was workable.  We defrosted about 2 cups of berries, warming them just to the point where they weren’t stuck together or too icy to handle.  Nicholas formed the dough into 7 pancake-like circles and wrapped each one around a handful of berries.  We put the blobs in a baking pan, poked the tops with a fork, and baked at 350F until they were crusty on the outside, about 15 minutes.  They got larger and stuck together, but they were easy to separate with a spatula.

The result was a sort of dumpling that could be hand-held while eating.  They tasted great!  The cookie dough was sweet enough that the berries didn’t need additional sugar to taste like dessert.  The dough wasn’t stale or freezer-flavored at all.  (I’m impressed, given that our refrigerator+freezer malfunctioned for several months last year before we decided to replace it, so everything from the freezer got semi-thawed and refrozen at least once.)  A little bit of berry juice had leaked through the crust, but the dumplings weren’t soggy, probably because Nicholas ate the last layer of berries at the bottom of the bowl and most of the juice from thawing was down there.

Using the old cookie dough to make fruit dumplings worked for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more food-related articles!  Visit Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more ways to make the most of what you’ve got!

No-Bake Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie for Summer

This is not so much a recipe as an example of how to work with the food, and the weather, that you happen to have.  Last weekend was very hot and humid, and we had some ingredients that needed to be used, including just two potatoes from our farm share–not enough to make a baked potato for each member of our 3-person family.  When I mused to Daniel about what to do with the potatoes, he suggested shepherd’s pie, which has mashed potato as the bottom layer.

The trouble was that shepherd’s pie is baked.  There was no way I was going to turn on the oven in this weather!  We don’t have air conditioning, but even in an air-conditioned house, it’s silly to use the oven in hot weather because it will make the AC work harder and waste energy.  I wondered if I could just make the mashed potatoes (only a small amount, so not too steamy) and briefly cook some other food and put it all together in a casserole dish.

It worked!  My casserole did not hold together particularly well when served, but a baked shepherd’s pie usually doesn’t, either.  All of us liked this main dish, served with a side of grapes.

Our eight-year-old Nicholas took this picture of the starting ingredients:
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CONTEST: Name This Recipe!

I’ve developed a main dish that my family really likes, but we can’t figure out what to call it!  “That non-Mexican-flavored Mexican Pizza that fits in the toaster-oven” or “Beans and veggies and herbs baked on cornbread” is too cumbersome.  Surely someone on the Internet will be able to think of the perfect, short, catchy name for this delicious food!

UPDATE: The winner is Dan Efran, creator of cool stuff to brighten your day!  This dish is now called Flexican Cornbread Pizza, and if you click that link you can read another variation on this versatile recipe.

This recipe is flexible and can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  I’m writing the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on what I used the last time I made it. In an appropriate pan, it will fit into a toaster-oven, allowing you to bake it using less energy and heating up your home less than the full-size oven.  The baking time is short, which makes it ideal for warm weather and busy days.  (I’ll admit, though, that when it’s 92 degrees and humid, like it is here in Pennsylvania this week, we don’t bake anything or even make toast!)  Serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan. To make 4 main-dish servings, you will need: Read more

FREE Earth-friendly Party Decorations!

Want to decorate your home for a party?  You could buy a bunch of bright-colored paper streamers or rubber balloons that you inflate with air.  These things are inexpensive, but they’re typically made in China by exploited workers in polluting factories and then shipped halfway around the world to you, wasting a bunch of fossil fuel.  When the party’s over, you can compost these things–if you don’t mind having those strong dyes in your compost (do you put it on your food plants?) and you’re willing to wait a couple years for the balloons to break down.  Another option is to buy mylar balloons and shiny plastic decorations, made (usually in China) from irreplaceable petroleum, which aren’t recyclable and will never biodegrade.  You could inflate your balloons with some of the world’s dwindling supply of helium, which we need for so many other more important things.

Or you could save your money, reduce your environmental impact, lighten the load in your recycling bin, and keep your kid busy while you do other things to get ready for the party!  Simply convert some scrap paper into festive link chains to festoon your home, like this:
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Cucumber Salad

My family has been loving this salad since we invented it a couple of months ago by adding ingredients to a recipe from The Frugal Gourmet for a “Jewish cucumber salad”.  It’s sort of pickle-like yet without dill.  It’s sort of coleslaw-like yet with a very different texture.  It goes well with sandwiches or burgers.  It’s a great potluck/picnic dish as it won’t spoil easily and tastes fine at room temperature.

To make 4 servings, you will need:

  • 1 cucumber
  • 1-2 carrots OR 1 tomato  (Obviously, which one you choose will make a difference in the flavor of the salad.  Both are good!)
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic or garlic powder, or 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp. yellow mustard
  • minced fresh chives, to taste (optional)

Combine all ingredients except the vegetables, either by whisking them together in the serving bowl or by placing them in a glass jar, putting on the lid, and shaking it.

Dice the vegetables. Toss them in the dressing until thoroughly coated.

Let stand at least 30 minutes before eating.

I made a big batch of this salad last night to contribute to the buffet dinner at our son’s school carnival tonight.  Cucumber Salad works for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop for more healthy recipes!

Healthy Alternative to French Onion Dip for Veggies or Chips

Meatless MondayI served this dip at coffee hour last Sunday and got many questions about the ingredients and requests for the recipe, so here it is!  I actually developed this recipe for a coffee hour not long after I joined my church in 1996, when I was not as much into healthy eating as I am now–I had been planning to make the standard “stir a packet of onion soup mix into a pint of sour cream” dip, but then I found that one of my housemates had used the soup mix that I thought was in the pantry, so I had to come up with something….

This dip is healthier than one made with packaged soup mix because it’s much lower in sodium and doesn’t contain artificial flavor, artificial color, or preservatives.  The yeast adds some extra protein and B vitamins–though probably only a trace amount per serving.  UPDATE: I looked up the ingredients of America’s most popular onion soup mix and realized that it would be off-limits for people with several of the most common food sensitivities: It contains wheat, corn (probably genetically modified), soy (also probably GMO), and monosodium glutamate.  Furthermore, the soybean oil is partially hydrogenated=trans fat, and the mix also contains carcinogenic caramel coloring.  Yum yum.  I’m glad I discovered this alternative!

I usually make it with yogurt rather than sour cream because these days I eat lots of yogurt and always have it on hand.  Make sure to read the label of yogurt or sour cream; some brands contain surprising additives.  Buy organic if you can.  I like the organic yogurt from Trader Joe’s, and it’s reasonably priced. To make a large bowl of dip, suitable for a party, you will need:

  • 2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp. dried minced onion
  • 2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast flakes (Read more about them here!)
  • 1 tsp. dried dill
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • a squirt of yellow mustard (optional; I add this if the dip seems too bland)
  • dash of soy sauce (GMO-free), or salt to taste

Mix thoroughly at least 1 hour before serving, to give the onions time to soften.  Taste it and adjust the seasoning if desired.

For once, I served a quantity of veggies that was almost perfect to satisfy the crowd and use up most of the dip, so here’s my suggestion for a veggie tray to accompany this dip:

  • 5 enormous carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
  • 1 large cucumber, cut into sticks
  • 3 bell peppers of assorted colors, cored and cut into strips

Visit the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop and Real Food Friday for more healthy recipes!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more great tips!

My Coupon Organizer

This is a project similar to our recipe binder, using reused materials to make something that does not look perfectly polished but is cheerful and works well for our household’s specific needs. One difference is that this project started with a purchase of something specifically for the project: I bought this nylon thingy (specifically marketed as a coupon organizer) in about 1994. Originally I used it with the stiff paper tabbed dividers that came with it.

After about a decade, though, those tabs no longer made much sense with the kinds of food I was buying. I mean, it had a separate section for cookies–we hardly ever buy those, because we don’t need them, and when we want some they are fun to bake. Chips and candy also were separate categories. And there was one for meat, but now that we eat less meat that seemed silly. There was no category that seemed appropriate for beans, so I kept forgetting where I had put the bean coupons.

If I had realized this project would be so quick (about 20 minutes) and easy and fun, I wouldn’t have waited so long to get around to it! I was finally inspired 4 years ago when my son’s preschool chucked out a bunch of barely-used file folders in nice bright colors. We used them in all sorts of crafts! The cheery colors of my improved coupon organizer make me happy every time I use it!
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Martinopoly: What My Kid Did for Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King, Jr., has been one of my heroes as long as I can remember. Since my son Nicholas was 3 years old, I’ve made a point of doing something on Martin Luther King Day each year to remember Dr. King and his principles.  That first year, we discussed the basics of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s assassination and attended an interdenominational service where some of Dr. King’s speeches and essays were read.  Other years, we’ve read a children’s book about civil rights, volunteered at National Day of Service activities, or watched Dr. King’s speeches on YouTube.

This year, Nicholas is 8 years old and in second grade.  As in kindergarten and first grade, his school did some teaching about Dr. King in the week before the holiday.  We went into the holiday weekend with no set plans for commemorating the holiday, and then I wound up with a headache that came and went all weekend, interfering with the chores I needed to get done.

Nicholas announced on Monday morning that he had decided what we would do for the holiday: He would make a board game about Martin Luther King, Jr., and then we all would play it together.  He spent several hours making the game board while I washed dishes, packed up Christmas decorations, and did other chores.

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Welcome to Earth Suburb.

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Pittsburgh Yam Fake (a sweet potato dish for summer!)

This is the dish to make if you wish you could make New England Yam Bake, but it’s 85 degrees in your kitchen and anyway what you have handy is 2 cups of sweet potatoes that were sliced raw, frozen, and thawed (see the first Saturday of Three Weeks of Vegetarian Dinners for historical details) and now need to be used up because you thawed two 2-cup bags for Sweet Potato Burritos but the person following the instructions of your meal plan was very tired and used only the first bag he saw.

The flavor is very similar to New England Yam Bake.  The texture is different, more like scalloped potatoes, because the sweet potatoes are in flat slices instead of big chunks and are not as soft as canned ones.

This could, of course, be made with canned sweet potatoes instead, in which case you’ll need to cook it just long enough to heat them.

To make 4 servings as a side dish, you will need:

  • a glob of butter–about 1 Tbsp.
  • 2 cups sliced sweet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar (less if using canned sweet potatoes–they are soaked in a sugary syrup)
  • cinnamon to taste
  • dash of salt
  • a handful of nuts (walnuts or pecans are best)
  • 4 pineapple rings, or about half a can crushed or chunked pineapple
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice from the can
  • a handful of miniature marshmallows
  • a saucepan just big enough to hold all ingredients, with tight-fitting lid

Melt butter in saucepan.  Add sweet potatoes.  Cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, at least 5 minutes until they are getting softer.  Meanwhile, chop nuts.  (Even if you grabbed the nuts out of a bag in the freezer, in a warm kitchen they will be soft enough to chop in no time.)

Stir in sugar, cinnamon, salt, nuts, pineapple, and juice.  Try to keep pineapple rings intact while stirring.  Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, another 3 minutes.  Remove a piece of sweet potato, let cool, then eat.  If it is too crunchy, cook a little longer.  If seasoning doesn’t taste right, add more of what is lacking.  If sauce seems too thin, mix in a pinch of flour.

Stir one last time, carefully scraping the bottom of the pan.  Scatter marshmallows across top surface of food and immediately put on lid.  Turn off heat.  Let stand at least 5 minutes so the marshmallows melt.

FREE computer game: Hall of Heads

My partner Daniel joined a group of computer game programmers who wrote 38 interactive fiction (text adventure) games in tribute to the 20th anniversary of Apollo 18, the They Might Be Giants album with 38 tracks.  Each game has the same title as one song on the album.  Daniel wrote “Hall of Heads”.  That is, he made up the puzzles and did all the programming of the game.  The reason I have co-author credit is that I helped a lot with the main concept and the opening scene of the game.  What does the Hall of Heads look like?  Why does it exist?  Why are you there?  I helped to answer these questions, and it was my idea that you, the player, should be able to swap your own head with those you find in the Hall.  For some reason I just sort of knew how this should work, what it would feel like to switch heads.  I also felt strongly that the lyrics of the song should give hints for winning the game.  After a couple of late-night sessions of spouting ideas, I left Daniel to do the actual programming.

I still haven’t played very far into the game myself.  It’s tricky!  I’m not an experienced computer-game player, and I need more hints.  But I got far enough to say that it’s got just the mood I had in mind–creepy, but not too horrifying.

Here is the index of Apollo 18 tribute games.  In the left sidebar are handy tips for playing interactive fiction.  If you already know how, click here to jump right into the Hall of Heads.

Helping to write the occasional creepy computer game works for me!

Daniel has written two previous computer games that are available for free: Ka is interactive fiction (also on the creepy side) and The Sand Boxes has graphics.

Our Recipe Binder

I have seen online many beautiful recipe binders created by full-time homemakers who have master’s degrees in scrapbooking or just great skill in making things look perfect.  Daniel and I are part-time haphazard homemakers, both of whom like to cook, so we have had to come up with a method of recipe storage that works for both of us and fits our shared values by being inexpensive and environmentally friendly.  It doesn’t need to look gorgeous to please us–in fact, it’s better if it doesn’t because I am going to use it while cooking, which means blips of sauce flying in all directions.  (Daniel is much more coordinated than I am.)  Also, it’s important to us to be able to get recipes into our system quickly, without waiting until we get around to making them look nice.

So if you have been craving an organized way to store your recipes, but you don’t want to spend any money on materials or you despair of making anything so pretty as you’ve seen online, you are lucky that I am home sick for the third day in a row and succumbed to a whim to take some pictures with my iPad.

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This binder was discarded by my dad’s office.

In 1984. Read more…

Raisin Bran Bread, Revised Recipe

Two years ago, I developed a recipe for Raisin Bran Bread to use up a bulk purchase of raisin bran cereal whose flakes were so big and hard and rough that it was painful to eat!  We love the bread, so I actually bought more of that aggressive raisin bran whenever Costco issued a coupon, so that I could make more Raisin Bran Bread.

After a while, though, I began questioning whether it really made sense to buy a processed product as an ingredient when I could instead be using the main ingredients from which raisin bran cereal is made, leaving out the preservatives and such.  It probably would be less expensive, too, given the low price of bulk wheat bran at our food co-op.

So, I once again mustered my nengkan, guessed at the proportions of ingredients to use, threw in some extra nutritiousness, tweaked it a bit more when it seemed too wet . . . and produced three yummalicious loaves!  I think it’s even better than my earlier recipe.  I have been eating at least two slices a day all week, and I’m not tired of it yet! Read more…